Latham set for London litigation push as firm plans to double City team headcount

Latham & Watkins has set out ambitious targets to ramp up its presence in the London litigation market, as the US firm continues to make inroads in the City.

The Global 100 leader, which has made a string of corporate and finance hires in London in recent months, has now set its sights on a similar push in disputes, and is aiming to double the number of lawyers in its London litigation department during the next three to five years.

The growth targets would see London litigation headcount increase from about 30 to 60, with partner numbers rising from 11 to about 22.

The expansion plans, already on their way to fruition with this week’s hire of CMS UK litigator Ian Felstead, come on the back of the appointment of Stuart Alford QC (pictured above) and Oliver Browne as co-chairs of the City disputes practice earlier this year. The duo took up their roles following the exit of former chair Simon Bushell to Signature Litigation in January.

Alford joined Latham last October from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), where he was head of the fraud division, while Browne has been at the firm for 12 years, making partner in 2012 after joining from Allen & Overy in 2005.

Alford said: “We are aiming to grow the team to 20% of London office headcount, which would effectively mean doubling in size within the next three to five years.”

Currently, approximately 70% of Latham’s global revenues come from transactional practices, with disputes representing the other 30%. The long-term goal is to see the London office reflect this proportion.

Overall, Latham has 330 lawyers and 75 partners in London. The firm has three core groups within its litigation department – international arbitration, complex commercial litigation and white-collar crime. Competition sits with both corporate and litigation.

Latham is prioritising growth in the white-collar space, said Alford. “White-collar is a good example of where we want to grow – that’s a priority for us. In the medium term we want this practice group in London to hold its own with the other players in the market.”

Other recent City litigation recruits include Martin Davies, who joined in January from Quinn Emmanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, and arbitration partner Sophie Lamb, who joined from Debevoise & Plimpton last year.

The firm is also eyeing up more partners with regulatory experience, after last year taking on the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) director of mergers, Jonathan Parker.

“We have a desire to build our regulatory enforcement experience in London, Frankfurt and Paris, particularly in the context of Brexit,” Alford said. “We will need more CMA expertise, more SFO expertise, and people who can cope with regulations in each jurisdiction.

“We want to grow the balance between transactional work and litigation. The strategy for the firm is to increase the litigation component. We have recognised as a firm there are opportunities we are not exploiting. In London, there are more significant deals – there is a real focus placed on that.”

Latham recently retained its top spot in the Global 100 revenue rankings for the third year running, having made significant gains across all metrics in 2016. Revenue increased for the seventh consecutive year, climbing 6.5% to pass $2.8bn on the back of significant investment in London and Germany.

In addition to taking on the magic circle in the London M&A market, the firm also wants to be viewed as on a par with the top firms in Germany, such as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Hengeler Mueller.

This February, chief operating officer LeeAnn Black told Legal Week sister title The American Lawyer that the Brexit vote had had no impact on the firm’s strategy, and that London remained ”a critical market” for the firm.